Heart Failure

  • Medical Author:
    Erica Oberg, ND, MPH

    Dr. Erica Oberg, ND, MPH, received a BA in anthropology from the University of Colorado, her doctorate of naturopathic medicine (ND) from Bastyr University, and a masters of public health (MPH) in health services research from the University of Washington. She completed her residency at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in ambulatory primary care and fellowship training at the Health Promotion Research Center at the University of Washington.

  • Medical Author: Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC, ABIHM
    Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC, ABIHM

    Dr. Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC, ABIHM, is board certified in cardiovascular disease, internal medicine, nuclear medicine, and holistic medicine. Dr. Guarneri is president of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine and serves as Senior Advisor to the Atlantic Health System for the Center for Well Being and Integrative Medicine. Dr. Guarneri is founder and director of Guarneri Integrative Health, Inc. and Taylor Academy for Integrative Medicine Education and Research located at Pacific Pearl La Jolla in La Jolla, CA.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Heart Failure Early Symptoms and Signs

Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is not able to function in a manner that can sufficiently supply the body with oxygen. Congestive heart failure is the failure of the heart muscle to maintain the circulation, leading to a backup of blood in the veins that causes:

  • swelling (particularly in the lower parts of the body);
  • shortness of breath is another common symptom of congestive heart failure that occurs due to fluid buildup in the lungs; and
  • fatigue and a decreased capacity to exercise are other symptoms that commonly result from heart failure.

Early symptoms and signs may not be apparent, and symptoms may develop only after the condition has progressed over time.

Quick GuideHeart Disease: Causes of a Heart Attack

Heart Disease: Causes of a Heart Attack

Heart failure definition and facts

  • The definition of heart failure is when the heart cannot pump efficiently enough blood to circulate oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. When the heart becomes weak or when it becomes thickened and stiff, the heart muscle cannot keep up with its workload.
  • Signs and symptoms of heart failure include
  • Risk factors for heart failure include high blood pressure, prior heart attack, obesity, smoking, alcohol abuse, vitamin deficiencies, sleep apnea, heavy metal toxicity, eating an unhealthy diet (including animal fat and salt), and being sedentary.
  • The cause of heart failure is a weakened or thickened cardiac muscle. When risk factors for heart failure are present, there usually is inflammatory stress, which further damages the cardiac muscle depleting cells of energy and antioxidants.
  • There are four stages of heart failure, used to classify the severity of symptoms.
  • Heart failure treatment includes lifestyle and diet changes, taking medications, and sometimes implanting devices. Heart transplant may be needed in some cases.
  • Medications can help reduce the symptoms of congestive heart failure (CHF) and improve heart muscle function. Commonly prescribed medications for heart failure include beta-blockers, diuretics (water pills), ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors, and ARBs (angiotensin receptor blockers).
  • The prognosis for heart failure is highly variable. If lifestyle changes are not made, or medications are not taken, or the underlying causes are not correctable, heart failure can become a progressive and ultimately fatal condition.
  • Heart failure can be prevented and reversed by making healthier choices such as addressing stress, being active, eating well, getting enough nutrients, treating sleep apnea, and taking medications as prescribed.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/22/2016

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